At the start of the pandemic, we asked for help immediately for fear of spreading COVID-19 to our loved ones at home. People were getting sick, and management was still not supporting us.
PPE (personal protective equipment) was not being offered while the department’s public health policy was unclear and changed constantly, making it difficult to protect against exposure or to rely on management for guidance.
We are union workers who work at Santa Clara County’s Juvenile Jail, exhausted at being disrespected at work. The disrespect we experience is frequent, but was made even more evident to us at the beginning of the pandemic.
When we requested support from our management team, no meetings were scheduled, or meaningful discussions occurred even as other departments were granted unequal access to safety protections. When our whole staff expressed our desperate need for PPE, COVID-19 guidelines and training, we were ignored and too many of us contracted the virus.
These dynamics motivate more clinicians to quit, retire and involuntarily deal with the dangerous realities of working in the field as a disaster service worker. As the staff who were left behind, we still go to work every day expected to do the job of two or three clinicians without the right equipment, safety gear, direction or discourse from management.
Amongst this chaos, adult inmates are transferring into Juvenile Hall. No surprise, but the staff was not informed or prepared prior to this transition, and there is still no set policy or training being offered. We are very concerned and expressed the need for clear guidelines and training. We can anticipate the risk levels for workers through inmate history and we know we are not prepared to mix young inmates with adults incarcerated for serious charges.
We care about the success of our clinic and that our co-workers are properly trained to deliver quality public services. We are not set up for success in our current dynamic between management and workers and this will have a major impact on the youth in custody.
We need our managers to stop punishing workers for speaking out about their health and safety; so unequal are their responses and so harmful their decisions to continue proceed with staffing cuts against the long-term health of county employees and our corrections program(s). The lack of respect and the abundance of internal failures to resolve issues shows how poorly our leadership is at the county level, but the punishing of staff who are speaking out to protect themselves crossed the line.
Can you imagine begging for PPE to protect yourself, getting sick and then endure being publicly punished? The county maintains their fiscal health and management procedures are in good shape, but the impending budget cuts and management’s approaches still loom over us, our clients and our community.
Workers are coming together at our Fund the Frontline Rally on May 21 at 11:30 a.m. at 70 West Hedding Street in San Jose. Our rally will focus on securing an era of racial and socioeconomic justice, prioritizing equity among people of color, and working families by holding elected supervisors accountable to their campaign promises.
Pho Bui is a psychiatric social worker, and Dolores Schultz and Iohana Tapia are marriage/family therapists with the Behavioral Health Clinic for Juvenile Hall.